Who will not attend the 2023 UN General Assembly?

General Debate of the 78th General Assembly begins on September 19 in New York

In a departure from tradition, four out of the five veto-wielding permanent members of the Security Council are choosing to skip this year’s UNGA. Getty / The National
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For one week in September, New York City becomes an even bigger hub of activity as monarchs, presidents, prime ministers and foreign ministers converge for the UN General Assembly.

The excitement is palpable as influential figures prepare to meet at UNGA, where they will present their visions to the world and engage in a variety of diplomatic side sessions – and also get a commemorative photograph taken with the UN Secretary General.

However, in a departure from tradition, four out of the five veto-wielding permanent members of the Security Council are choosing to skip this year’s UNGA.

French President Emmanuel Macron has a busy September schedule, welcoming Britain's King Charles III on his inaugural visit to France as monarch, after the trip was postponed due to violent protests in Paris and other cities. The French leader is also set to meet Pope Francis in Marseille on September 22.

Also breaking with tradition, UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak will skip his inaugural UNGA session, becoming the first British leader in a decade to forgo the event. In his absence, Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden and Foreign Secretary James Cleverly will spearhead the British delegation at the global forum.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese leader Xi Jinping rarely attend and will both be absent this year as well. Representing Russia will be Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

The sole permanent member of the UN Security Council attending the prominent gathering will be US President Joe Biden.

Mr Biden will address the General Assembly on September 19 during a two-day visit to the UN.

He will “meet world leaders to discuss co-operation in tackling threats to international peace and security, advancing global prosperity, and protecting human rights”, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said.

Richard Gowan, who oversees Crisis Group's advocacy work at the UN, told The National that Mr Biden would this year be making “another strong push to claim that the US remains the best guarantor of international order, taking advantage of the fact that Putin and Xi are staying away from New York”.

“Secretary of State Blinken will also be present for the whole General Assembly week, taking the opportunity for one-to-one diplomacy with as many leaders as possible. The US always has 'home team advantage' in New York, and they will make the most of this chance to lobby foreign leaders,” he said.

The top representatives of most other countries will be attending the event, though for some nations, the issue of representation has become somewhat muddled.

Niger, which was until recently seen as a beacon of democratic progress and security in sub-Saharan Africa, will not be sending its democratically elected president, but instead its recently appointed Prime Minister Ali Mahaman Lamine Zeine. President Mohamed Bazoum was overthrown by a military coup in late July.

The accelerating trend of military coups across Africa also reached Gabon, one of the 15 members of the UN Security Council, a month after the military took control in Niger.

With the dust yet to settle, questions loom over whether the leader of Gabon’s junta, Gen Brice Nguema, who was sworn in as interim president by the country’s constitutional court on Monday, will attend UNGA.

And it remains undecided who will attend to represent Sudan, a nation mired in a continuing conflict between the armed forces and a powerful paramilitary group.

Updated: September 19, 2023, 8:09 AM